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Those unending days of Christmas

By Gerald Raftery / December 23, 1985



I seldom compare myself to Ebenezer Scrooge, but one feature of the holiday season always pushes my Bah-Humbug button. It is the accumulating tedium of that carol ``The Twelve Days of Christmas.'' As a matter of fact, the popular (but not with me) version is incorrect in one important respect. As usually sung, it begins:

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On the first day of Christmas

My true love gave to me

A partridge in a pear tree.

If you dig into the original wording, however, you find that True Love didn't give her those gifts personally. He sent them.

He was no fool.

In the euphoria of the first day of Christmas, which is Christmas Eve on our calendar, a kooky gift like a partridge in a pear tree might be considered whimsical. But by the fourth day of Christmas, True Love would be an unwelcome visitor. By that time he would have sent four pear trees, four partridges, six turtledoves, six French hens, and four calling birds. And the Christmas season would still have more than a week to go.

Pear trees in December would have to come from a nursery; the roots would be balled up in burlap and the branches secured with twine. Where do you put a gift like that! You would check with the nearest garden supply house and probably wind up storing it in the garage.

A partridge is very fine eating, all white meat and deliciously moist; but who needs partridges when the Christmas turkey is still in the hash cycle?

Of course, the fifth day of Christmas brings five golden rings, and that makes amends for some of the previous problems. But they are accompanied by more turtledoves, French hens, calling birds, a partridge, and another pear tree. The garage is getting full.

The next couple of days bring more feathered friends; geese and swans are a lot bigger than doves and hens. This presents a housing problem and the thought that True Love may be suffering from a poultry fixation. And the accumulating partridges add another worry.

The open season on partridges in Vermont closes Dec. 31; that's only the eighth day of Christmas. By an odd coincidence, the Vermont game laws penalize the possession of more than eight partridges. The household has enough trouble already, and True Love's girlfriend is making frantic phone calls to the neighbors, asking if they could use a couple of partridges.

True Love's surprise present for the eighth day of Christmas is eight maids a-milking, and in order to do any milking they have to bring along eight cows. The day is Dec. 31 and if the New Year's Eve celebrants have started partying early, this daily aggregation out on the lawn could seem pretty hilarious. But the lady of the house doesn't think so. Given True Love's track record, those milk maids are going to be showing up daily for four more days. This could also produce a cleanup problem.

The ninth day of Christmas is New Year's Day, and the arrival of nine ladies dancing would hardly be welcomed on a morning when many people value peace and quiet. The dancers are accompanied by yet another batch of poultry. In case you are not familiar with turtledoves, we call them mourning doves, and when one of them gets to mourning in good voice, he can be heard a quarter of a mile away. The household supply of turtledoves would now total 16. Even without those maids a-milking and the ladies dancing , the household would clearly be aflutter.

The closing days of the Christmas season would be even more hectic. But if you were planning a really lavish party, it might be nice to book a couple of adagio dancers and a rock group, or a small instrumental combo. But who needs 10 lords a-leaping, 11 pipers piping, and 12 drummers drumming -- and every day! It puts you in a spin just thinking about it; and that would be a real handicap if you were trying to think what to do with those 12 pear trees out in the garage.

Gerald Raftery writes a weekly column for the Bennington (Vt.) Banner and the Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Mass.).